Archived Viewpoints





About This Technology

Use of the metabolic pathways of microorganisms to catalyze chemical reactions in commercial processes—in competition with conventional inorganic catalysts—has become increasingly practical and affordable to many industries in recent years. Biocatalytic reactions are generally more energy efficient, have lower cost, and produce less hazardous waste than inorganic catalytic reactions. Biocatalysts have use in many sectors, including the food, textile, pharmaceutical, and chemical and energy industries. Within these industries, biocatalysts have many applications, ranging from product synthesis (for example, pharmaceutical and ethanol manufacture) through use as active agents in products (for example, in detergents) to use in diagnostic testing equipment and as therapeutic agents.

Biocatalysts have use in both industrial (commodity) and specialty (low-volume) applications. The attributes necessary to succeed in developing and selling these two distinct product types differ. Commodity applications work on high-volume production and are price sensitive. Often supplier–customer relationships are long-standing and difficult to break. Commodity biocatalyst users have a reputation for conservatism. Specialty biocatalysts sell in low volumes and are generally useful in applications for which the enzyme is a small but value-added component or for which addition of the enzyme either facilitates performance or leads to a performance improvement that justifies its cost of use. Such an application would be a therapeutic enzyme or an enzyme for use in a diagnostic kit. Areas showing a potential for market growth and for technological innovation include the development of engineered enzymes (providing faster throughput, cheaper production, or the capability to produce novel products), pollution-control systems or lower-polluting industrial processes (such as pulp and paper manufacture), nonaqueous biocatalytic systems (for use in applications such as oil and fat bioprocessing), and manufacturing processes for producing specific compounds (for example, biopharmaceuticals).

Biocatalyst companies are now accelerating the advancement of biocatalyst and bioprocess knowledge to exploit these emerging opportunities. At the same time, successful companies understand that the exploitation of biocatalyst opportunities requires a long-term commitment. More and more companies in a variety of industry sectors are now investing significant research dollars in exploring biotech opportunities. The continued growth in interest in the commercial use of biocatalysis and continuing technological innovation coupled to the fragmentation of the biocatalyst industry allow both large and small companies to exploit innovative biocatalysts, products, and processes.